stevenpiziks: (Ireland)
stevenpiziks ([personal profile] stevenpiziks) wrote2008-07-05 02:18 pm
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Ireland--Monday Journal (Exploring Trim and Climbing the Abbey)

My mother won't like this entry very much . . .


I was up too late organizing my notes, dowloading photos, and writing in my journal, so I slept way, way in.  Finally got up at 9:30, made a big breakfast, and puttered around the cottage.  I finally realized I was stalling going anywhere because I just don’t like driving around Ireland.  The whole driving on the left side thing makes me unhappy, and it’s so very easy to get lost.  Sternly told myself to quit being a baby and get moving.

Up today was Trim, or “Troim,” if you speak Gaelic, and the Bective Abbey.

I drove to Trim without incident and along the way had a revelation about driving.  It was easier to stay on the correct side if I thought of it as keeping the center line of the road next to my steering wheel instead of remembering “left” and “right.”  That helped quite a lot.  I was also getting to know the area, and I didn’t get lost on the way to Trim.  The excellent maps I have are a major help, and I’m starting to trust that there’ll be a sign to point the way at intersections (or “juncture” as they’re called here).

I was wondering how I’d find the castle when I got to Trim.  I needn’t have worried.  The castle dominates the village.  It’s freaking huge.  This is the castle where they filmed BRAVEHEART.  I’ve never seen it, so now I’ll have to rent it and see what I remember.  The castle was originally built in the 1100s.  A few hundred years later, it got a second floor added to the main keep and the towers.  A few hundred years after that, it got a third floor.  Of course, since the main floor starts about three stories above ground level, and a “floor” is actually about two stories tall, the main building is actually really, really TALL.  It’s a gray, blocky ruin now, but in it’s heyday, the entire keep was the size of a large village, and the exterior was completely done in whitewashed plaster.  It sat (still sits) on the River Boyne, and it had a moat at one time.  You can still see the remnants of it, and it still has a bit of water in it.

Today, you enter up a long, high gravel ramp that used to be a drawbridge over the moat.  Enter a large archway and find a ticket window where you can pay a small fee to wander the castle grounds or pay a slightly higher fee to tour the inside of the keep.  Murder holes glare down at you, and you can see where the portcullis used to be.  I got the tour, and was told I had about 45 minutes to wait, which meant I could explore the grounds first.  I set out.

I wandered around, reading signs and exploring ruins.  I loved it.  I love castles, I love trying to figure out what happened where, I love imagining what it looked like back in the old days, and I love thinking about the people who used to live there.

Trim Castle actually fell into ruin several centuries ago and was only “rescued” by the OPW about 20 years ago.  Before then, anyone could just walk in and climb around the old keep, chip out the stones, or do whatever they liked.  A man I talked to later in the day told me when he was a kid back in the late 60s, he and his friends used to play Cowboys and Indians (no joke) in the castle, using pellet guns (BB guns, to you).  The spiral staircases were favorite places for ambushes.

A huge, well-trimmed lawn spreads itself between the keep and its outer wall, the curtain wall.  I walked the perimeter and noted where towers used to sit and where they still did.  Arrow slits, later gun slits, were still there.

At 1:00, I joined the tour group.  Our tour guide was a young woman who talked too much.  She told us just about every detail on the building of the castle and how it had changed in each of its three periods.  Although that was sort of interesting, we really wanted to look around the building itself rather than hear a lecture.

Most of the interior was gutted.  The inside had been mostly wood, with the exception of the spiral staircases in the corner towers, so it didn’t survive.  The OPW had recreated some of it and put the beams in their original sockets and on the original ledges.  Interestingly, the building is much smaller inside than outside.  This is because the walls are so thick, of course.  I’ve seen restaurants with back rooms that were bigger than the Great Hall in Trim.  The family’s main chamber was very small, maybe twelve by fifteen feet.  They know it was the family room because it was the only room to have a toilet it in.  This was nothing more than a hole in the floor that led outside.  And this was in one of the biggest castles in all Europe at this time, and it was held by one of the wealthiest, most powerful families ever to rule in the British Isles.  It served to remind me that even though I’m a middle class teacher, I live in far greater luxury than the most powerful king in the Middle Ages.

I did have to quibble over something the tour guide told us.  Spiral staircases in castles almost always go clockwise.  This is because when you’re defending a spiral staircase and you’re standing farther up one than your invading opponent, you have room to swing your sword if you’re facing downstairs.  Your opponent, facing upstairs, has no room to swing his sword.  The guide said that left-handed people were considered tools of the devil and weren’t allowed to use swords.  I disagreed with that.  Left-handed fighters were usually valued because righties were used to fighting other righties, and a lefty was confusing to deal with, but lefties were USED to fighting against righties and suffered no handicap.  And, of course, a lefty could fight up a spiral staircase very nicely.  Southpaws were indeed seen as tools of the devil in many areas, but swordfighting wasn’t one of them.

After the tour ended, I checked out the Yellow Tower, which is across the River Boyne.  It’s a ruined square tower that’s about eight stories tall and was a huge bell tower and priory.  It was really, really ruined.  I could see smoke damage in one place.  Most of the staircases had collapsed.  Graffiti was scrawled on it--modern graffiti, that is, done with Sharpies.  One bit said “I.R.A.”

I grabbed lunch at a fish and chips place.  It came in a brown paper bag and not wrapped in newspaper.  The counter girl said, “Are you okay?” instead of “May I help you?” which confused me at first.  I thought I had been taking too long to decide what I wanted or something and she was nudging me, but she did the same thing to the customer behind me right away.

I carried my food back to the castle lawn to eat outside because the weather was nice--mid-sixties and a mix of sun and clouds.  Children climbed the rough castle wall and played tag, and it occurred to me that this was probably something that had happened back during the 10th century, too.

The fish and chips were sizzling hot, and I had to let them cool a bit before I could eat them.  There were more chips than I could eat, and I idly tossed one into the grass.  A raven swooped down out of nowhere and snatched it up.  In seconds, an entire flock of them fluttered quietly in, dropped to the lawn, and stared at me.  It was way creepy.  I flung a chip as hard as I could, and they all chased it.  At that point, I got up and left.  I realized it was like feeding seagulls--I’d never be rid of them now.

Next, I stopped at the visitor’s information center and asked for directions to the Bective Abbey.  The nice counter worker pointed the abbey out to me on a map, and off I went.

The Bective Abbey is a rather different monument.  You get there by driving along this narrow country road and then suddenly POOF!  You see it behind this stone wall with a wrought iron gate in it.  There’s no place to park, and anyway, it’s too late to stop.  You cruise farther along and cross an arched stone bridge that was probably built 400 years ago, turn around, and come back, looking for a place to park.  Eventually, you find a slightly wider place on the nearly-non-existant shoulder (stupid hedgegrows), park, and get out.  You trot up the road to the double gate.  It’s locked with a big, important-looking padlock.  And then you see a smaller gate within the main gate.  It’s unlocked, but you have to duck and clamber through it.

I did all this.  A family was there, clambering in just ahead of me, and other people arrived during my visit there.  The place seems to be pretty popular, for all that there’s no parking, no directions to it, and no one staffing it.  It’s bizarre.

Once I got through the gate, I arrived at yet another wall.  This one you have to climb over.  There’s a sort-of staircase to help you.  Or you can walk all the way around to the back, where the wall has come down.  The Abbey’s currently located in a cow field, though, so watch your step.

I climbed over the wall and got into the Abbey proper.  It’s another massive castle-like building that’s fallen to ruin.  I wandered all over it.  It’s falling down, and parts of it have been gated shut, mostly underground chambers that someone decreed weren’t safe.  I stuck my camera through the bars of the gates, took a picture, and pulled it back out so I could see what was inside.  Empty stone rooms, mostly.  They could have been used for anything.

Once again, I was struck by how small everything inside was, even though the outside was so massive.

The Bective Abbey lost its status as an abbey after a few centuries of use and it was handed over to a nobleman, who used it as a residence.  He expanded the building and added fireplaces, a new invention at the time.  The expansions were visible in some places.

Then the fun began for me.  The Bective Abbey is a place for climbers.  The OPW doesn’t watch the place, and people do as they like there (though you’re not supposed to pry stones out or write on the walls or spread litter).  This includes climbing the walls.  The second floor of the Abbey is locked off because the spiral staircases have either collapsed or were gated and locked--too unsafe to use, or it was too unsafe to have people wandering around the second floor, since they could fall.  The interior is largely open, you see.

I wanted to see the second floor, I wanted to walk on what was left of the rooftops, I wanted to see what you couldn’t see from the ground.

I love climbing.  I grew up in a house with a big, old barn held up with big, bare beams, and my siblings and I used to climb around them all the time.  We had an orchard full of trees we climbed as well.  We climbed everything we could reach.  I still love doing it, and here was a ruin to climb!

I found a rough wall that let me climb fairly easily up to the second floor level, but I was actually on the wall and not on the second floor.  To reach a spot on the second floor involved some gymnastics and a bit of a jump.  No problem!  A short leap, a twist, and I was there.  Now I could explore the second floor.

Here I ran into part of the family that had arrived at the Abbey at the same time I did.  It was the father and teenage son.  They’d climbed up, too, but by a different route.  The father, it turned out, grew up in Trim, and he was the one who played Cowboys and Indians in the castle.  He also knew a few things about the Abbey.  He took a couple pictures of me in various interesting and hard-to-access places in the Abbey, which was very fun.

I explored further.  The corner towers had the remains of spiral staircases in them, and the father (whose name I didn’t catch) climbed up the interior of one of them, emerged through the open roof, and sat on the edge of the tower.  His son took a picture, then the man skittered back down the inside again and emerged from the doorway on our floor.

I poked my head into the tower for a look.  The staircase was almost completely gone, leaving just the shell of the tower and a few stones jutting out from the interior wall.  The tower itself was quite narrow, maybe five feet across, meaning I could reach the far wall if I leaned far enough.

“I have long arms and legs,” said the man.  “I don’t think you should try that.”

“I want a picture of me at the top of the tower,” I said, and started up.

The first half of the climb was easy.  The remains of the stairs were large and easy to find.  Then there was a gap in the stairs of about four feet, and I only found little nubs of rock.  Beyond them were more stair remnants, but getting past the nubs would be tricky.  The main floor was about twenty feet below me, and if I fell, I would probably break something important, but honestly, I wasn’t worried about falling.

Carefully, testing every stone twice before I put my weight on it, I edged around the tower wall.  I hit a point of no return, too--a spot where I had to commit myself fully because I couldn’t turn back.  In this case, I had to lean fully across the tower, grab a set of stones on the far wall and brace myself against them, then use that for leverage while my feet scooted past the tiny nubs onto larger stones.  No way to change my mind in the middle of this, and if I stopped, I’d be stranded.

Just keep moving, just keep moving, just keep moving.

The rough stones were actually very easy to hold onto, and they were perfectly dry.  I wouldn’t have tried this if they were even slightly damp.  I got past the nubs and onto easier chunks of rock.  From there, I scooted up to the top of the tower.  The roof was gone, and I just flung a leg over the edge of the tower wall.  I looked down.  The ground outside the Abbey walls was a good six or seven stories below me.  Looking down from a great height never bothers me, actually.  What I can’t do is look UP, believe it or not.  It makes me sick and dizzy.  This is because I can’t see what my feet are doing, and it makes me nervous.  Looking down, though, is pretty cool.

Anyway, I scooted along the rim of the tower until I was over the interior of the keep.  I waved at me new friend, and he took a bunch of pictures of me.  Ta da!

Now I just had to get down.  In one piece.

It wasn’t a problem, actually.  I just did everything I’d done on the way up, but backward.  It was actually easier because I knew what to expect, and in no time I was back on the second floor again.  Go me!

I thanked my new friend, and left the Abbey.  Back at the car, I checked my map.  I could keep going and see what Navan was like, or I could turn down a different road and go home.  Since it was only 5:00, I decided to look at Navan.

Navan was =crowded.=  Traffic was awful.  It was busy, busy, busy.  The downtown area, though, had a nice set of shops.  I tried to park and discovered that all my parallel parking skills were useless from the left-hand side.  I managed a half-assed job of it, then got out to look around.

What I was actually hoping to find was the music shop.  I knew Navan had one, but I had no idea where it was.  Navan was clearly bigger, much bigger, than the villages I’d been in so far, though, and the chances of finding it were--

And there it was.  The Music Box.  Less than half a block from my parking spot.  Can you believe the luck?

I went in.  Crap.  I was all guitars and modern drums.  I asked the clerk if they sold folk instruments besides bodhrans.  “Like what?” he asked.

“Recorders?” I said.  “Harps?”

“Harps, no.  We have recorders, though.  Fred here’ll get ye one.”

Fred produced a simple Yamaha from the back room, and I bought it.  I can play a recorder better than a pennywhistle, and it’s more flexible.  What sucks is that I have THREE soprano recorders at home already.  Sigh.

It was now 6:00, and rush hour was still in full swing.  Curb-to-curb cars.  I didn’t want to drive in it, so I just walked around.  All the shops closed at six, though, so there wasn’t anything to do except walk.  At 6:15, the traffic evaporated, and I drove off, deciding I wouldn’t come back to Navan.  Oi!

I drove home just fine, even negotiated a construction zone.  Go me!  Ate a supper of frozen pizza, then hung around the cottage doing not much at all until bed.

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